28 December 2011

Holiday Baking: Wrap-up

So the big day has come and gone, although I like to stretch out the celebrating as much as I can. But I am done with baking! Treats have been shared and enjoyed and the (few) leftovers frozen (I don't know about you but there's only so much sugar and butter I can consume before macrobiotic veganism starts seeming appealing). But I thought I'd share the last couple of recipes, verdicts, and photos.

Ingredients for Supreme Sugar Cookies:

I am egg obsessed--but I think they're so pretty:

The dough all mixed:

Wrapped and ready to be refrigerated for an hour or so:

My selection of Yuletide cookie cutters (Santa, oak leaf, bell, holly leaf, trees, stars, "gingerbread" people, snowman, acorn, and sun):

Rolling out the dough (I love my giant French rolling pin! Easy to use and handy for threatening pilferers):

Ready for the oven. At this point I had two options: brush the cookies with milk and sprinkle with decorative sugars before baking OR bake them as is and ice them when cooled. I'd love to ice them but I usually don't have the time and I don't trust my artistic skills so I went with the former option:

I made good use of red, green, and black coloured sugars; snowflake shaped candies, silver dragees, and regular granulated sugar. Next year methinks I should pick up some blue & yellow sugar too:

I'm especially happy with how the Santas turned out (check out his rocking black boots and white sugar beard):

Supreme Sugar Cookies

[My notes/changes in brackets]

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable shortening [do your heart a favour & get non-hydrogenated shortening like Earth Balance, pictured above. It's not easy to find outside of health food stores but it's totally worth the effort]
1 cup [granulated] sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Mix first 5 ingredients thoroughly together.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Blend into butter mixture, mixing well. Chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Roll out dough 1/8" thick and cut into shapes. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 6-8 minutes, until lightly golden [don't overbake!] .

You may lightly brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar before baking, or ice when cooled.

With my cutters I ended up with about 3 dozen.

Next up, Alton Brown's Ginger Cookies. What you need:

What you get (sorry about the lack of photos--time got away from me):

Alton Brown's Ginger Cookies

[My notes/changes in brackets]

1/2 cup (113 g/ 4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (227 g/ 8 oz) dark brown sugar
1 tbs molasses
1 large egg
2 cups (270 g/ 9 1/2 oz) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp (3 g) baking powder
1/2 tsp (3 g) baking soda
2 tsp (12 g) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (2 g) salt
1/4 cup crystallized (candied) ginger, chopped to a small dice

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt until very well blended.

In a small bowl, beat egg.

Using a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, on medium speed (or by hand): mix the butter alone for a minute to spread around the bowl. Add sugar and molasses slowly and beat until mixture lightens noticeably in texture and increases slightly in volume.

Reduce the speed to "stir" and add the eggs very slowly, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Work in the dry ingredients in three installments. Stir in the chopped ginger.

Roll the dough into two logs, 2" in diameter. Wrap them in wax paper and refrigerate overnight. [Try not to giggle like an idiot while doing this]

The next day, preheat oven to 375F. Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper, or greasing, and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut each log into 1/4" slices.

Place the slices on the prepared cookie sheets, and bake for 8-10 minutes until the cookies have a soft set*, rotating the pans after 4 minutes. To rotate pans, move the pans from one oven rack to the other and rotate front to back.

Remove the pans from the oven and move the cookies onto a rack to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Soft set: the centers of the cookies have set, but the cookies are still soft.

Makes about 3 dozen 2" cookies.

And here in one convenient location are all the sweet treats I made:

My Verdicts

Alton Brown's Ginger Cookies: (Old favourite) Other than the fact that I screwed up (I thought I had more candied ginger on hand than I did) these are great! I love the texture and they're easy to make. Next year I'll be stocking up early on candied ginger.

Buckeyes (Old favourite) These were universally enjoyed and they didn't last too long. If you're a fan of chocolate and peanut butter, don't hesitate to make these.

Chocolate Panforte (New recipe) Delicious! Probably my favourite this year, despite the odd instructions. You truly can't go wrong with fruit, nuts, and chocolate. Will definitely be making again (and it keeps well too).

Karithopita (Old favourite but made by me for the first time) I didn't post about this but it's my absolute favourite cake. It's a spiced walnut cake soaked in syrup and I could eat it until I lapse into a sugar coma. I never had the chance to make it before because (1) my mom always did and (2) it makes a lot so even halving the recipe is a but too much for this household. It's perfect for gatherings, though. Luckily I got the recipe from my mom so it tasted just like hers. It unexpectedly domed a little in the middle and my sister thought it was slightly denser but given that the measurements are in the form of highball glasses and soup spoons (my mom wasn't big on measuring cups) I think it turned out just fine. It freezes well too.

Rum Balls (New recipe) Do not give to children or recovering alcoholics! These are strong but good. I personally liked them best when they were out of the fridge for a day but they're still good straight from the fridge. I think we'll be seeing these again (maybe made with a rum chosen for it's smoothness rather than its funny name).

Supreme Sugar Cookies (Old favourite) These are great if you have kids, especially if they like to help with the decorating. A year without them doesn't seem quite right. They do get stale fast, though, so make them at the last minute and keep in an airtight container.

Three Sisters' Spanakopita (New recipe) This was good but definitely not my mom's. For that reason alone I won't be making it again (especially since my sister gave me my mom's recipe afterwards--doh!) But it was still tasty and cheesy. The phyllo was super crumbly, though, and my sister says I should have used regular butter for it, not clarified as the recipe calls for. Something about moisture content--regular butter will make the phyllo crispy but not so crispy that it'll shatter into a thousand pieces when you cut it. Good to know for next time.

Whipped Shortbread (Old favourite) Excellent, as always. We didn't get to give quite as many away as I would have liked because we apparently have a shortbread gnome that likes to help himself ;) Making a double batch isn't a bad idea.

I hope your holidays were filled with family, friends & delicious food!

Photos by Domicile

22 December 2011

Holiday Baking: Chocolate Panforte

Wow--it's been a week of near constant cooking, cleaning and decorating and I'm still nowhere close to being done. Suddenly I really appreciate what my mom and aunts did/do every holiday to make it enjoyable for the rest of us! (The men of the family, other than a few of the younger guys--including my properly raised SO--don't concern themselves with "women's" work and spend holidays arguing about politics and watching sports. You know who you are...)

Anyway, the latest baking installment involves chocolate panforte, a type of fruitcake. Although, really there's not much fruit in it. This is a new recipe for me. I really wanted to make a traditional fruitcake but I was too disorganized to get it started in time. Alas. But this one could be made at the last minute plus, you know, chocolate, so it ended up being the chosen one. I have high hopes for it (I don't want to cut into it until tomorrow so how it turned out remains a mystery). Read on for the recipe and click on the photos to enlarge...

The usual suspects and the source of the recipe:

(By the way, every recipe these days involving chocolate has to include the caveat that you must use the best possible type of chocolate you can find. Like your cookies or whatever are going to be total crap if you don't empty the bank account on Ghirardelli 100% cacao (yes, it exists). I might be something of a purist when it comes to food but I'm not a snob and guess what? Baker's brand chocolate works and tastes just fine and comes in convenient one-ounce squares. Feel free to use whatever chocolate you like but don't feel like your recipe will be ruined if you don't go over the top.)

Can you really go wrong with chocolate, fruit & nuts soaking in brandy? (I also discovered that dried cherries are awesome!)

I'm not sure why I felt the need to include a shot of the prepared pan. Exciting! (PS: If you're sensing tinges of irony or sarcasm throughout this post it's because I just spent the last two days listening to Henry Rollins spoken word. I highly recommend it...)

Right after I took this picture I realized I'd screwed up and put in an extra scoop (1/3 cup) of sugar. Oops (must have been distracted by Rollins). I think I managed to get most of it out but this panforte may end up being a little on the sweet side:

Bubble, bubble...sugar and honey boiling up trouble...

And then we add the brandied mixture:


My pan was too big but the mixture didn't spread much so it came out to the right size in the end. All batters should be so cooperative:

Strange step: sifting a mixture of flour, cocoa powder, and cinnamon over top:

When it's baked it looks like this:

And apparently you're supposed to brush off the flour mixture that's left on top before serving. What was the point of adding it, then? Anyone? Bueller?

Chocolate Panforte

Makes one 9-inch cake

[My notes/changes in brackets]

4 ounces whole hazelnuts (3/4 cup) [according to my measuring cup 4 oz is more like 1/2 cup but I used 3/4 cup anyway.]
Soft butter, for pan
3 ounces dried cherries (1/2 cup) [again, should be just under 1/2 cup but I used the full amount]
2 tablespoons brandy
3 ounces best-quality [Baker's brand is fine] unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (3/4 cup)1 1/4 ounces best-quality [ditto] bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon best-quality cocoa powder

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a baking pan. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes [in my case fragrant meant burnt and burnt hazelnuts are horrible. Keep a close eye on them]. Rub warm nuts in a clean kitchen towel to remove skins [yeah, if there's an easy or thorough way to do this would someone let me know? Also, it would have helped if Martha mentioned it works best when the nuts have cooled]. Set aside.

Reduce oven heat to 300 degrees. Brush a 9-inch springform pan [I used 10-inch and the batter stayed in a 9 inch circle on its own] with soft butter, fit with circle of parchment, brush parchment with butter, and set aside.

Combine fruit, nuts, brandy, and chocolates in a medium bowl; set aside. Sift 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl.

Combine honey and sugar in a saucepan. Stirring, bring sugar to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer for 2 minutes. Combine with dried-fruit mixture, stirring until combined. Fold in flour; mix to combine. Pour into prepared pan.

With wet hands or a small metal spatula, press the mixture to form a level layer. Combine the remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and cocoa. Sift over unbaked cake. Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool. Gently brush off flour coating before serving [I'm still not sure what the point of this coating is but a pastry brush does a decent job of brushing it off].

Pictures by Domicile

Happy Winter Solstice!

On this longest night of the year I wish you much warmth, light, abundance and prosperity in the months ahead!

20 December 2011

Holiday Baking: Whipped Shortbread

I love shortbread. If I'm not baking anything else at this time of the year I'll still make at least one batch of shortbread. Maybe it has to do with me not trying it until I was a teenager (at which point I proceeded to make a bit of a pig of myself). Greeks have some fine sweets but sadly, shortbread is not among them (we do have a cookie that's sort of similar and is always described as Greek shortbread but, as good as it is, it's not the same). Luckily my SO is as much a fan as I am (that might have something to do with having a Scottish dad) so shortbread is definitely a household favourite. Even better--it's easy to make!

The ingredients:

This particular recipe usually involves simply dropping the dough from a spoon onto the baking sheets but I thought I'd make them a little fancier this year using one of my few cookie stamps. This one has to be my favourite--it's so pretty:

I don't recommend creaming the butter and sugar by hand. Holy work, Batman! If only my mixer bowl had been available. Still, I got the job done:

I meant to take a photo of what happened after the flour was added but I guess it slipped my mind. Instead of dough I ended up with crumbs. This happens occasionally and I'm not sure why. If it happens to you, don't despair! Shortbread is very forgiving. You can simply press the mixture into a shortbread pan like this one (which happens to be the one I've got):
Or you can press the dough into a regular pan and cut into pieces after it's baked. Or you can do what I did and press handfuls of crumbly dough together until it sticks and forms balls (still a little crumbly so don't try to roll them) and then gently stamp them with a cookie stamp (you could also press them down with a fork--like I said: forgiving).

The design is a little faint but it's still pretty:

After baking the shortbread should still be pale. If it browns on the bottom it's overdone but still tasty so don't worry about it (I can't recommend good quality air-insulated baking sheets enough!)

Whipped Shortbread

[My notes/changes in brackets]

1 lb (500g) butter [room temperature]
I cup icing/powdered sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla [you can use liquid extract but I use powdered vanilla]
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour [unbleached in my case]
1 cup chopped pecans (optional) [I'm a shortbread purist so I've never made them with the pecans. If you do let me know how they turn out!]

Cream butter and icing sugar until very fluffy. Beat in cornstarch and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour and continue until batter is very fluffy [remember not to stress if it never quite comes together--crumbly dough can easily be pressed together]. Stir in pecans, if using.

Drop batter by spoonfuls [or form into balls and press with a cookie stamp] on ungreased baking sheets [they don't spread much so you can place them fairly close together]. Bake in a 325F oven for 20 to 25 minutes [keep an eye on them so they don't brown].

I ended up with 56 cookies.

Photos by Domicile (except for the shortbread pan)